the Most Perfect Snowman – Perfect Picture Book Friday

Title: the Most Perfect Snowman

Written and illustrated by: Chris Britt

Publisher: Balzer & Bray, September 2016

Ages: 4-8

Themes: snow, winter, snowmen, kindness, bullying, paying it forward, loneliness

Opening:

Drift was the loneliest of snowmen.
Made from the first blustery snow of winter,
he’d been built fast and then forgotten.

Synopsis:

Drift the snowman is just a plain forgotten snowman who feels different from all the other snowman because he was made without the things other snowman had like a hat, scarf, mittens, and most of all a carrot nose. All the other snowmen make fun of him until some generous children provide just what he needs. And, of course, Mr. Snowman pays forward that act of kindness.

The illustrations are cartoony, which is Chris Britt’s style, creating some very stylish snowmen and warm expressions. He has created a wonderful wintry book about empathy, sacrifice, friendship, and kindness, and it is perfect for the first snowfall of the year.

Why I like this book:

While this is a message-driven story, it retains all its sweetness for me, especially with a lovely twist at the end. 

Resources/Activities: 

This is a story that will make a great conversation starter with children about things like; teasing, feelings, caring, sharing, and friendship!

Each week a group of bloggers reviews picture books we feel would make great educational reads. To help teachers, caregivers and parents, we have included resources and/or activities with each of our reviews. A complete list of the thousands of books we have reviewed can be found sorted alphabetically and by topics, here on Susanna Leonard Hill’s website.

 

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Sometimes We Tell the Truth – Book Recommendation

Title: Sometimes We Tell The Truth

Written by: Kim Zarins

Publisher: Simon Pulse, 2016

Ages: 14+ (YA)

Themes: high school, story-telling, confessions, The Canterbury Tales, perfect score, sexuality, gender roles

 

 

 

 

 

Opening:

My mother drives me to school like I am little again, and I stir awake when she turns off the engine. It’s still nowhere close to sunrise, and my classmates huddle under the street lamps in the parking lot, some staying warm by smoking. I pray to God my mom doesn’t notice them.

Synopsis:

In this contemporary retelling of The Canterbury Tales, a group of teens on a bus ride to Washington, DC, each tell a story—some fantastical, some realistic, some downright scandalous—in pursuit of the ultimate prize: a perfect score.

Jeff boards the bus for the Civics class trip to Washington, DC, with a few things on his mind:
-Six hours trapped with his classmates sounds like a disaster waiting to happen.
-He somehow ended up sitting next to his ex-best friend, who he hasn’t spoken to in years.
-He still feels guilty for the major part he played in pranking his teacher, and the trip’s chaperone, Mr. Bailey.
-And his best friend Cannon, never one to be trusted and banned from the trip, has something “big” planned for DC.

But Mr. Bailey has an idea to keep everyone in line: each person on the bus is going to have the chance to tell a story. It can be fact or fiction, realistic or fantastical, dark or funny or sad. It doesn’t matter. Each person gets a story, and whoever tells the best one will get an automatic A in the class.

But in the middle of all the storytelling, with secrets and confessions coming out, Jeff only has one thing on his mind—can he live up to the super successful story published in the school newspaper weeks ago that convinced everyone that he was someone smart, someone special, and someone with something to say.

In her debut novel, Kim Zarins breathes new life into Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales in a fresh and contemporary retelling that explores the dark realities of high school, and the subtle moments that bring us all together. (Publisher)

Why I like this book:

Like the original work, Zarins uses entertaining stories (that include their fair share of sex and farts) to provide commentary on social and other issues of the day. Zarins has done a masterful job of weaving together stories that are funny, tragic, bawdy, romantic, and surprising–much like the characters who tell them. She is able to create 24 completely unique character voices, which is no small feat. The characterization is spot on, and the teenage humour is pitch perfect. The narrator, Jeff Chaucer, is particularly appealing as he faces both the usual struggle of trying to fit into the high school social groups and the more complex journey of redefining his relationship with his ex best friend (he is confused with his growing attraction toward him.) And I love their ending! Of course, the Pardoner’s story is one of the best! In addition Jeff’s classmates throw out their secret stories –  some fantastical, some realistic, some pretty juicy—in pursuit of the ultimate prize: a perfect score. I love every story they told! Their stories include revelations about a senior prank gone wrong, explorations of what it means to love and connect with others, friendship, family, sexuality, rape culture, mythical creature, even feminism.

The themes of sexuality and gender roles are handled with particular sensitivity and honesty, and authentic emotion. Zarins’ writing is gorgeous and I found myself wanting to highlight passages but couldn’t as I promised I would donate the book to our school library.

Sometimes We Tell the Truth is a great novel for older teens (for the explicit content), as well as an accessible and relevant companion to anyone struggling to read the original Canterbury Tales in Middle English (been there done that!) And I will personally be passing it along to our English department in the hope that one of them may pick it up for a class read.

Resources/Activities:

Zarins, who is a Medievalist at Sacramento State University includes two lists of characters — one to help readers keep the individuals straight, and the other outlining the parallels to Chaucer’s characters. But you don’t need to know Chaucer, or even be an English major, to enjoy this contemporary story and the teens’ timeless searches for understanding and love.

Posted in Book recommendation, Children's literature, Diverse Children's Books, LGBTQIA, young adult | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

King Alice – Perfect Picture Book Friday

Title: King Alice

Written and Illustrated by: Matthew Cordell

Publisher: Fiewel and friends, October 2018

Ages: 4-8

Themes: snow day, imagination, house-bound, stories, tuck inside

 

 

 

Opening:

Good morning Sir Dad.

“Yaaaaawn… Morning Alice,” said Dad.
“No! KING Alice! The First!” shouted Alice.
“You mean… Queen?” asked Dad.
“No! KING!”
“Ummmm… King,” Dad said.

Synopsis:

Alice and her family are stuck indoors on a snowy day. Alice loves to read, and when her dad suggests that she make her own book, she snaps out of her “I’m bored” mode and makes up a story that lasts till the lights go out later that night.

Why I like this book:

First and foremost I love the Mom and Dad’s plaid pajama pants, which they wear throughout the day! 

Alice brings the full powers of her imagination (“Idea!”) and limitless energy to bear on her dad, who seems to take the brunt of entertaining his daughter while Mom, who is still very present, is taking care of the baby brother. It is fun and relatable and full of Cordell’s characteristic squiggly art work. The story within the story parallels work very well and I think children will especially appreciate the text and illustrations of King Alice’s story. 

A no-small accomplishment here is to so immerse the reader in the stories and energy that by the end of the book you are as wiped as Dad and crossing fingers for a return to school tomorrow.

Lovely diverse touches are the insistance on the male royalty nomer by Alice and the mixed parentage family. All incidental, but appreciated. 

Resources/Activities:

Have students illustrate their favorite snow day activities.

 

Each week a group of bloggers reviews picture books we feel would make great educational reads. To help teachers, caregivers and parents, we have included resources and/or activities with each of our reviews. A complete list of the thousands of books we have reviewed can be found sorted alphabetically and by topics, here on Susanna Leonard Hill’s website.

 

Posted in Perfect Picture Book Friday | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments